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ICC prosecution temporarily suspends probe of Philippine war on drugs

The International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor has temporarily suspended its investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity in connection with President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

The prosecution made the move days after the Philippines requested the ICC to defer to its government's investigation of its nationals for killings in the context of the campaign against drugs.

Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Eduardo Malaya in a letter to ICC prosecutor Karim Khan cited the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) referral to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) of 52 cases in which the Philippine National Police-Internal Affairs Service found administrative liability on the part of the concerned personnel.

"The Prosecution has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request," Khan said in a report on the Philippine situation dated November 18. 

Khan said the prosecution would continue its analysis of information already in its possession, as well as of any new information it may receive from third parties.

He added that it would also actively assess the need for applications to the Pre-Trial Chamber for authority to conduct necessary investigative steps for the preservation of evidence.

"The Prosecution will, in the coming days, request additional information from
the Philippines under rule 53 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence," Khan said.

"Such additional information is necessary for the Prosecution to assess the scope and effect of the Deferral Request," he added.

Khan said this would also be to determine whether to apply to the Pre-Trial Chamber "under article 18(2) of the Statute, for authorization to continue investigating."

'Keen on prosecution'

In a letter to Khan dated November 10, Malaya said the Philippine government had been looking into the alleged abuses in the course of the campaign.

"[T]he Philippine government hereby requests that the Prosecutor defer to Philippine government's investigations and proceedings," Malaya said.

"The Philippine government is likewise keen on ensuring the successful prosecution of cases that have been filed or may be filed in court against erring PNP members and others within its jurisdiction,” Malaya said in his letter, a copy of which was posted on the ICC website.

“If the prosecution fails to discharge its burden of proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the Philippine courts, pursuant to their constitutional mandate, will not hesitate to acquit the accused,” he added.

Duterte has repeatedly said that he would only face a Philippine court and if convicted, would choose to be imprisoned in Muntinlupa.

“I will not allow myself to be judged by white people in another place outside of my country,” Duterte said in his speech during the opening of the Siargao Island Sports and Tourism Complex on November 6.

Malacañang had also said it would be difficult for the ICC to “uncover the truth” as it insisted that the Philippine government will not cooperate in the investigation owing to the country’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, in 2019.

'First responsibility'

Malaya argued that the Philippine government had "the first responsibility and right to prosecute the international crimes” based on the principle of complementarity under which the ICC operates.

“The Court may only exercise jurisdiction where national legal systems fail to do so, which is certainly not the case in the Philippines...the domestic institutions in the Philippines are fully functional and more than adequate to address the issues and concerns raised,” he added.

Malaya also said the Philippines in July signed with the United Nations the three-year joint program on human rights.

The UN Joint Program seeks to support the Philippine government in strengthening its accountability mechanisms, as well as investigations and data collection on allegations of human rights violations.

The program also aims to better promote a human rights-based approach to curbing the drug menace.

'Further from the truth'

Reacting to the Philippine government's claims, human rights advocacy group Centerlaw said, “This could not be further from the truth.”

“On the contrary, the fact that only 52 cases of the estimated 30,000 killed have been reviewed reveals that the government’s feigned compliance with international justice is paper-thin,” Centerlaw said in a statement.

“Justice must be done not only in word but in deed. Centerlaw thus calls on the ICC, in the interests of international justice, to authorize the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) to continue with their investigations of the Situation in the Philippines, as empowered under Article 18(2) of the Rome Statute.” -NB, GMA News